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8th International Mariinsky Festival

'Carnaval,' 'For Four,' 'Flora's Awakening'

by Catherine Pawlick

March 22, 2008 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

Sergei Vikharev’s lovely revival of Mikhail Fokine’s “Carnaval” proved to be a charming balletic ode to the famous Commedia del Arte. With sets and costumes reproduced from Leon Bakst’s original sketches, which are currently housed in the St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music’s archives, one has little fear on the question of this ballet’s authenticity. And with honored Russian critic Vadim Gaevsky’s program notes, the background on the delightful work seems complete. 

Gaevsky notes that, for the performers, relating the style of this little-known (in the West) Fokine work is a challenge, because it is mostly a question of feeling the style, of breathing it: 

“The sketch of Pierrot and the Butterfly is an obvious metaphor of the ballet, one of a few. Here it is as if the ballet’s authors are trying to revive the lost style of Vienna of the 1840s, the happy Vienna of the middle of the 19th century, in short, post-Mozart but pre-Freudian Vienna, Vienna without complexes, hysterics, strange dreams and gloomy cravings. This classical Viennese myth is reconstructed on the stage of the theatre one last time, returning the spectator to the epoch of the Viennese Biedermeier, that cozy, sophisticated epoch which contrasts starkly with the previous ten years of war and the Hapsburg’s great power goals.” 

Gaevksy explains that at the time, “Carnaval” contradicted all existing components of academic ballet – composition, structure, dance and pantomime. And that, like his “Dying Swan”, Fokine’s “Carnaval” is about improvisation. 

While the costumes – huge, floor-length crinoline gowns with many layers of external – aren’t made to reveal the dancers’ bodies, they do recreate the spirit of a mid-19th century Viennese salon. With chandeliers hung from above, a simple blue velvet curtain as the backdrop, and a velvet loveseat on stage right, the stage is set for the numerous interludes between various characters. 

The ballet opens when Pierrot, acted brilliantly by Islam Baimuradov, expresses his dismay at the fact that everyone else is paired up, and only he is alone. Immediately the tone is set as we follow the fate of each character as they are condemned to relive their own frustrations within the confines of the stage. Pierrot’s dream (and frustration) is to catch the fleeting Butterfly, danced with adorable care by Yana Selina. He chases after the light creature with a velvet hat, intent that he will manage to capture her. Selina, whose wide grin and careful port de bras and footwork were perfectly fitting for her character, could not have fulfilled this role any better than she did. Baimuradov’s ability to convey virtually any emotion – from passionate violence, as seen in “Glass Heart”, to gloomy sadness as Pierrot, only underlines his seemingly endless talents. 

This idea of characters encased in their own world, which we, the spectators, are temporarily witnessing, repeats itself in each set of interactions. The beautiful Evgenia Dolmatova – always one of the first two corps girls to enter in the first Act of “Swan Lake” during this festival – flirts lightly with Sergei Popov’s well-dressed Florestan. Blessed with an expressive face and brilliant smile, as Estrella she depicted a lovely girl who feigns confusion when Florestan declares his love for her. 

Ciarrina, danced by Marina Pavlova, appears with flowers in her hands and dances a near-mazurka while Eusebius attempts to unsuccessfully kiss her hand. Sergei Salikov depicted the foppish, awkward Eusebius with great clarity, making clear his awkwardness as seen by everyone but himself. 

And of course the prized couple, Evgenia Obratsova as Columbine and Vladimir Schklyarov as Harlequin, entertained with their innocent love affair and short, quaint duets. As Harlequin, Shklyarov had ample opportunity to flaunt his light ballon and strong jumps. Likewise Obratsova’s bourrées were a flutter of dainty brilliance en pointe, her dance with Harlequin filled with simple promenades and numerous young-lover silliness. In one scene, this devilish duo manages to trick Pantallone, who has a letter from Columbine setting up a secret meeting. They steal the letter and tear it to pieces, but Columbine’s beauty prevents Pantallone from becoming too angry. All of the characters' interactions come full circle, predicated on their individual fates. 

In the end, everyone is paired up except for Pierrot, who continues to try to catch the Butterfly – and all is just as it began inside the Commedia del Arte. In a shift from the usual choice of Agrest, Bubelnikov or Sinkevich, the ballet was conducted by Mikhail Tatarnikov, who led the orchestra in some luscious sounds. 

The second piece of the evening was a sparkling reappearance of Christopher Wheeldon’s smash hit, “For Four”, which Ardani Artists commissioned for the Kings of the Dance tour that premiered in Petersburg last fall. This time the Bolshoi and Royal Ballet artists were replaced with local Mariinsky stars. Alexander Sergeev danced the part originally set on Nikolai Tsiskaridze; Angel Corella danced as himself, and Andrian Fadeev and Mikhail Lobukhin danced the parts of Ethan Steifel and Johan Kobberg. Just as entrancing as it was at the premier, “For Four” drew repeat curtain calls and extensive applause. All four men are highly talented artists with impeccable technique and individual strengths. Sergeev stood out for his long lines (especially in arabesque), Lobukhin as a great turner. Andrian Fadeev committed to each step with extreme finesse. And Corella, as always, made a show of his quick-snapping chainé turns and fast jumps. Unfortunately, as this work belongs to Ardani, it seems there is little chance of it being performed frequently enough in Petersburg. But seeing it even a second time here was a treat indeed. 

The evening ended with the reappearance of Obratsova and Shklyarov in “Flora’s Awakening”, in which Svetlana Ivanova led the opening scene with fine port de bras and exquisite lines as Diana, guardian of the night. Valeria Martinouk reappeared as a sprightly cupid – the role seems made for her – and the slim, blonde Natalia Sharapova of lovely legs danced Geba with noble carriage. Alexei Timofeev bounded onstage in several air-borne leaps as Mercury, and Sergei Kononenko blew his way onstage as Aquilon. Conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov, this time without any strange sounds from the orchestra pit, the ballet was a pretty ode to Petipa and a nice close to the evening.


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